Analysis of The Manhattan Declaration

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And Esau said, I am about to die, of what use is a Birthright to me?


In 1994 the world was awakened to a document fashioned by a group of professing Evangelical and Roman Catholic theologians. This manifesto entitled Evangelicals and Christians Together (ECT) created quite a stir. There was a back-lash against it by Christians from all over the world. Essentially, the document was flawed and sought to cover-up the inestimable fatal differences between Roman Catholicism and Christianity. The document ultimately led to the writing of other signed documents which more or less drew boundary lines between Roman Catholics and various Christian theologians and organizations.

In 1994 several concerned Christian theologians were alarmed that too many confessing Evangelicals had signed ECT without repentance. There was also a deep concern that this attempt to bring Evangelicals closer to Rome was only the beginning. Both worries proved to be worthwhile. Over the past 15 years many new movements have sprung up with the net result of either recognizing Roman Catholicism as genuinely Christian or, worse yet, merging back to Rome. The World Lutheran Federation all but declared the Protestant Reformation a mistake. The Anglican Community is flirting with a whole scale merger with Rome. Many American theologians are asking their students to forget about the past and look to the future where they envision Roman Catholics and Christians sharing the same pulpits in a broad ecumenical spectrum.

But up until now there has been only a spattering of noteworthy Christian men willing to overlook the deadly dogma of Rome in hopes of a brave new world of ecumenism. There have been some whose response to ECT was weak and inconsistent. There have been others who have tried new documents that would be inclusive of Rome only using different language than ECT such as The Gift of Salvation. But, in the main, most Christians have held their ground on Sola Fide (Faith alone in Christ alone for justification) and Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone for faith and practice). Also, up until now, most high profile trusted and gifted biblical scholars and teachers at the most conservative Bible Colleges and Seminaries have resisted all attempts to declare Roman Catholicism true Christianity.

In 1994 some of us wondered how long this could last in light of the high energy level of many Arminian Evangelicals and many Covenant theologians committed to baptismal regeneration. Both Arminianism and baptismal regeneration are cardinal doctrines of the Roman Catholic religion. Many of us wondered how long before the two groups would come together in light of this. We, of course, thought that the differences between solid rock Calvinism within the baptismal regeneration wing of Covenant Theology would slow the process given their propensity to mistrust all Arminian theology. But, strangely enough this is not the case. The work of such notable Arminian writers as Norman Geisler and Chuck Colson on the one side and the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) theologians on the other side have worked their way back toward Rome in their own way. They are now meeting in the middle under the wings of Rome.

The works of these men and their followers, and their articles, and their books, and their goals for the future of Christianity have all been scrutinized and reviewed by CWRC and many other capable ministries that have bothered to keep up with all of this. We encourage you to visit such web sites as CWRC-RZ.Org, or Alpha & Omega Ministries, Grace to You, or Proclaiming the Gospel, or Take Heed Ministries, among many others to discriminate what is going on and the reasons behind the events.

In light of all of this, we need to be very, very careful and discerning when we are asked to take on board yet another signed proclamation or document especially when it is authored by the same folks who gave us ECT etc. Just such a manifesto (Declaration) has been released and we need to take a closer look at it to see if it is a valid expression of Christian theology.

The name of the essay is Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience (Declaration). It was released on November 20th 2009 and signed by over 150 members from what is purported to be an at large Christian community. The architects of the paper are Robert George of Princeton University, Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School, and Chuck Colson of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Chuck Colson and Timothy George have been on the front lines of ecumenism with the Roman Catholic religion since 1994. They have been reviewed extensively. Mr. Robert George is a well respected professor of jurisprudence at Princeton and an avowed Roman Catholic. These three are listed at the end of the manuscript as the drafting committee.

Review


The text of the declaration, along with the title, gives us no reason to doubt that the authors consider themselves to be Christians writing from a distinctively Christian point of view. We need not go too far into the preamble to recognize the Christian label has been stamped on this manuscript. Christians are "heirs of a 2,000 year tradition of proclaiming God's word", "we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing", "Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of the Western culture." "Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery"

The summary statement of the preamble leaves no uncertainty to the reader that Christianity is being promoted and that Christians are being called to action.

"Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good." (page one: Preamble)

With this in mind, the Declaration needs to be examined on two levels. The first level is the ecumenical level. Or, in blunt terms, is the Declaration another Trojan horse in whose bowels is contained the implements of destruction for the Christian faith? The second level is the legitimacy of its call to action based upon the social ills of our nation.

Can Egypt Save Israel from the Philistines?


A major problem, within the nation of Israel, was the propensity for numerous within the community to become afraid during difficult times. After departing from Egypt, there seemed to be many times when fright gripped the Israelites. The journey to the Promised Land was long and treacherous. Such were the dangers that we are told in Exodus that God deliberately led His nation away from the Philistine route. For fear of the Philistines, in their weakness, Israel could have run away from God back to the safety of Egypt. At one point many in Israel began to hunger for the food of Egypt. Out of terror of the unknown, out of mistrust of their leaders, and out of dread of being destroyed, they reflected upon the world they lived in and longed for the past.

Num 11:5-6

5 "We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. NASB
We find in this illustration an apt analogy of what is occurring today on the philosophical and theological journey of Christians in the 21st Century. Like our counterparts of old, we face dangers from within and without. We face many trying times that bring alarm. But panic invites strange bedfellows. One such bedfellow is the ecumenical pied piper who incessantly plays the pied piper music of rapprochement with Rome. Israel ultimately understood that Egypt would not be able to save her from her enemies. The net result of returning to Egypt would have been to become just like Egypt. This would have destroyed Israel. It is a lesson for all of us. Re-defining Christianity in hopes of swelling our numbers is akin to Israel inviting Egyptians (return to Egypt) to stem the tide of Philistine influence. I suppose there were some in Israel who would have liked to return. They would have liked to perhaps blend the cultures. Such as it is with modern day ecumenists; they would run back to the safety of Rome out of fear of losing their culture. They would seek to blend the cultures Rome and Christianity. But, of course, like Israel of old, this would be the destruction of Christianity

In 1994 the authors of ECT began that treatise with these words:

"We are Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics who have been led through prayer, study, and discussion to common convictions about Christian faith and mission."

We argued then and do so again now that the main thrust of ECT was to unite Christians in apprehension of the impending Muslim invasion, and to bring together Christians out of anxiety of what might become of Western culture. We also argued that it is pure folly to re-define Christianity in order to swell the ranks so as to be insulated from the Muslim threat. But that is exactly what the framers of ECT did. They attempted to dumb down Christianity so that Rome, among many other non-Christian religions, might get under the tent of Christianity to stem the tide of paganism, humanism, Eastern mystic religions, and the Muslim invasion so prevalent in Western Europe.

The problem with ECT, and all other ecumenical documents of its kind, is that it tried to whittle down the square peg of Christianity to fit it into the round hole of Rome. In so doing, the bed-rock, cardinal, unchangeable doctrines that define the essence of the Christian Gospel, and the faith of a Christian were either altered or ignored. The result has been a watering down of true Christianity, and the putting forward of a sub-Christian philosophical ideology in its place. This new Christianity has room for just about everything that is remotely associated with God's Word or His Gospel. We argued that if Roman Catholicism can be considered truly Christian then just about any kind of triune and ultimately monotheistic scheme of belief can be considered Christian. In the wake of the recent dialogue between Mormons and professing Evangelicals it is not far off to think we are going to see just such a convoluted and distorted hybrid portraying itself as Christian.

The current document (Declaration) begins with the following:

"We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individual, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image."
We are not sure how to parse this statement. Should we read it as: We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and [also] Evangelical Christians Or, shall we read it: We, as Orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, and Evangelical Christians It is not too clear here. But given the rest of the document, we think it is safe to assume that all three groups are recognizing each other as fellow Christians. The rest of the declaration is in the third person plural referring back to the above statement. The most telling sentence is found on page three where we read: we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak out and act The we are the three mentioned in the Declaration. To leave no doubt, the sentence beginning the next new paragraph states unambiguously the following: "We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right-and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation"

It is clear enough that those writing this document consider one another to be Christians albeit each having ecclesial differences with the other. It is also safe to assume that those signing this document do not have much trouble signing even though it is plain that Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox religion, and Evangelical Christians are all said to be Christian, albeit with ecclesial differences.

So, what do we have here? It appears undeniable that the assumption of the designers and signers is that Roman Catholics are to be considered Christians. There is no caveat, or asterisk, or explanatory footnote, or endnote that attempts to quell this obvious conclusion. The only slight attempt at clarification is the admission that there are ecclesial differences between these Christian groups.

It was the ambition of ECT to minimize the distinguishing features between Rome and Christianity by using the word differences. By using this word the framers were able to admit to irregularities between Roman Catholicism and Christianity while at the same time championing the alleged similarities. Soon the differences became almost insignificant and the alleged similarities were trumpeted to the point of near equivalency for the two groups. We argued that the differences are fatal and eternal. We argued that the similarities are at best superficial. We argued that one could not hold to the cardinal doctrines of Rome and Christianity all at the same time. We were right and continue to be right on this critical point.

We find in this latest attempt at ecumenism that the designers and signers of the Manhattan Declaration are in cahoots all over again. The deepest most fundamental divide between the Roman Catholic religion and Christianity is now called an ecclesial difference. We are not surprised by such a euphemism in the light of ECT.

But just how do we relegate such things as baptismal regeneration, purgatory, papal infallibility, indulgences, incremental justification, merit based salvation, transubstantiation, and sacramental salvation to mere ecclesial differences? Rome denies the heart of Christianity by disavowing justification by faith alone. Rome neutralizes the authority of Christianity by rejecting Sola Scriptura. So, how can these essential doctrines, by which we define Christianity, be safely designated as ecclesial differences? We say they cannot be.

In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer, hears a voice in his corn field tell him, If you build it, he will come. There is little reservation in saying that the framers of ECT, and this new Declaration are hearing similar kinds of voices. The voices must be telling them, If you say it long and often enough, it will be believed. What they are saying is that the Roman Catholic religion is a different kind of Christianity and most certainly needs to be recognized as a part of the Body of Christ.

The Manhattan Declaration uses the word believer as a synonym for Christian. But what a Christian believes is not mentioned. What constitutes a Christian is left out completely. Some might argue it is not the purpose of the document to mark out a definition of Christianity. But this would be entirely naive. The danger of the Declaration is that it does in fact mark out a definition of Christianity. By nonchalantly including Roman Catholics as Christians the document re-invents Christianity and obliterates the well defined boundaries of Christian doctrine upon which all of true Christianity depends. For this reason it should not be tolerated within Christian circles and those who signed it, if Christian, should repent of their act. On page five of the Declaration we read the following: "The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture." Likewise, we would affirm that the impulse to redefine Christianity in order to recognize non-Christian religions is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the erosion of Christianity in America. This new document is much more dangerous and problematic for the United States of America than any of the social ills that it seeks to remedy. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake here, and nothing is more important than this.

Does it matter if some well known and trusted Evangelical Christians sign such a document as this? We think it does matter. There are many who simply take the word of their favorite theologian and do not check to see if what is endorsed has biblical credibility. This is precisely why those who signed this statement should recant or at least clarify why they would make safe such a manuscript. We do not think the terminology making safe an essay is too strong. Recently, a World Magazine article featured the life of J.I. Packer, one of the strong supporters of ECT, and the author of the article makes the following chilling testimonial.

Packer's signing of the 1994 ecumenical document, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," indicated to many Protestants that the controversial statement was doctrinally "safe." (Taken from an article entitled: Patriarch, by Warren Cole Smith in the December 5th 2009 edition of World Magazine.)

ECT was anything but doctrinally safe. It was destructive to good doctrine and has taken a mammoth effort to fight back for the ground lost due to one man's signature. Because of the hefty number of trusted Evangelicals who have signed the Manhattan Declaration, it will take time and equal exertion to undo what has been done. May this critique be a small step in the right direction. Robert M. Zins

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